How to Integrate ERP into your B-to-b Ecommerce Site

Integrating a b-to-b ecommerce system to a large and stable enterprise resource planning system allows for the seamless movement of data, but can also be one of the most difficult challenges to tackle.

Because it can be so daunting, some organizations choose the path of least resistance and duplicate the ERP data and business logic into the ecommerce system, leaving the two systems decoupled.

Unfortunately, this decoupling opens the door to a host of headaches, and companies find themselves wrestling with data replication and timing errors. Even worse, customer orders can process differently, depending on which system captures the order.

The alternative is to allow the ERPs and ecommerce systems to share certain data points and business logic. This allows essential information to flow between them and avoids many of the headaches described above. The key is a robust and well planned strategy that include data flow, business logic and an integration methodology to determine how, when and where the data flows between the systems, as well as which system owns the business logic.

Understanding and following a few golden rules will ensure that the b-to-b ecommerce site complements the ERP system, and does not try to replace it.

Data – the one source of truth
Data is the lifeblood of an ecommerce engine, and the data needed typically already exists in the ERP. This makes it critical to set a strategy around the data integration. It is crucial to determine where each data element should be stored, and which system “owns” the data. Careful consideration should be given to data points such as Customer Master data, Item/Catalog data and Customer Order Information.

After it is decided where each data point should reside, who owns it and how it will be shared, a data map should be created so that ownership is clearly defined and documented. A great mantra to keep in mind is: “There can only be one source of the truth”; this will help to establish whether the ecommerce or ERP system should own the data.

Put the business logic where it belongs
After it’s determined whether the ecommerce or ERP system owns each piece of data, consider the business logic required to process an ecommerce order. Ecommerce systems typically include functionality that is duplicated in the ERP, such as item pricing, taxing and order processing. In considering these redundancies, look to keep a business function within the system that is best suited for processing that function.

A great example is the pricing engine. Most robust ERP and ecommerce systems alike have very flexible pricing engines. However, the ecommerce system will typically feature powerful promotion and discount modules as well. Duplicating the ERP pricing engine into the ecommerce system can be a daunting task, and generally is not recommended. The project team must look at the business logic, and determine which system handles the functionality best.

Use the best integration methodology
There are a host of integration methodologies and tools available for linking ERP systems to ecommerce engines. A small sample of tools companies may consider includes FTP processes, IBM MQ Series, Web Services, Microsoft BizTalk and Oracle Fusion.

It’s often beneficial to use the integration tools that are already used within the organization. This creates consistency across all projects, and allows the development team to better understand and support the new integration points. It is also beneficial to leverage existing integration processes and methodologies. This helps to keep the projects costs down, as the existing integration assets can be reused, reducing development time and costs.

Keep it simple
Integrating a b-to-b e-Commerce site to an ERP has many moving parts. Ultimately, it’s important to keep things as simple and straightforward as possible. In executing any integration project, the process of planning, organizing and documenting a strategy allows for a much smoother project. Overcomplicating the integration simply makes everything that much more difficult, from programming it in the beginning to supporting it after go-live.

William Onionis managing director of IT services company Briteskies.